back to article Samsung shows off next-generation big-pixel camera sensor tech, coming to an Android phone near you

Samsung today announced its latest smartphone sensor tech, the ISOCELL GN2. Already in production, this image sensor promises improved low-light performance over its predecessors, despite supporting a high (50MP) megapixel count. Why does that matter? Because as of H1 2020, Samsung was the second-largest maker of smartphone …

  1. Barking mad

    Pixel binning

    One reason to do pixel binning is to increase the SNR. Almost the same signal is falling on adjacent pixels, especially if they are small, but the noise is random so it's different for adjacent pixels.

    The Lumia 1020, released in 2013, has a 41 megapixel sensor. The RAW image is 7136 x 5360 and the standard JPEG is 2592 x 1936 (both saved at the same time). I believe it is using pixel binning. And either the Sony a7RII or the a7SII (can't remember which) does pixel binning in HD video mode, the other selected 1920x1080 pixels evenly spaced across the sensor. The difference is noticeable in low light as low light which drives down the SNR.

    However, the 1020 illustrates other issue. It had a larger than normal lens made by Zeiss. The true/useful resolution, measured objectively with a camera chart, is the least of the sensor megapixels and the resolving power of the lens. Many lenses even on DSLR cameras max out before the sensor does and that is much more likely to be the case on a phone camera. Many cinematography lenses in use max out around 4k horizontal resolution. That's not a problem on an ARRI Alexa or 35mm film where the resolution is <4k, but if you use them on an 8k RED Mostro you're not going to see a 2x increase in sharpness.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Pixel binning

      Concerns about noise don't matter too much when the sun is shining, or often even if it's overcast. If one assumes that most photos of distant objects are taken during the day then the tactic of cropping a large resolution image to achieve a 'zoom' makes sense, since you can still pixel bin in lower light and you don't need 'zoom' shots.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Pixel binning

        Or more low-light photos are taken indoors and you don't need 40MP shots of some kid's birthday party

  2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Or maybe...

    Phone with cameras? I think that I'd be happier with a Leica that allowed me to make phone calls.

    1. Barking mad

      Re: Or maybe...

      When I first got a 1020 my thought was indeed that. It's a camera with a phone bolted on the back.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "You don't want quantity – you want size"

    While I do think the phone industry has gone a bit mad about the amount of pixels, I welcome a reasoned argument about how less is sometimes better (stop sniggering at the back).

    As for me, I'll stick with my Canon EOS 400D for my important pictures, like family events. Phones exist only to grab a pic when you've not got anything better.

    1. Sampler

      Re: "You don't want quantity – you want size"

      As they explained in the article, you have a certain space to work with, more pixels (ie, higher megapixel count) in that area means each pixel has less light to work with (as there's spacing between pixels so you have more grid, which light is falling on instead of the pixel).

      Pixels packed together are also more likely to interfere with each other so you get greater noise artefacts in the resulting image.

      So you're looking for enough balance between number of pixels to get detail but not too many pixels that you're losing light and generating more noise.

      This is why Sony sell the A7S range, a full frame camera with only 12mp (vs say 24mp on the cheaper A7 range or even the 40mp to 60mp of the similarly priced A7R range) as it makes it an absolute beast in low light where you can crank the ISO up (think of it as sensitivity of the sensor) without getting the noise artefacts you'd get in the other lines, this makes it a favourite for videographers on a budget who can get great 4k video quality in a small package and shoot in darker conditions with better quality than others.

      I have a Note 20 Ultra with an 108mp sensor on it, which is thoroughly pointless, the picture quality isn't better than the 12mp Note 8 it replaced (in fact, they're worse, but that's more the default oversaturation of reds that they decided to do in processing, rather than IQ of the sensor) but the pictures themselves are huge in comparison (data file wise) and therefore don't work with a lot of systems as the filesize is above the cut-off limit (or they don't understand the HEIC codec). So again, more is not better.

      Counter-intuitively though the Note 20 is actually better in low light than the Note 8, not straight out of sensor mind you, but it has a computational night mode that takes a second or two to take your photo, so if a subject is static and you're a steady hand it can take the time to read in data over time and help eliminate noise. Of course, if your subject isn't static and you've got the grip of Michael J Fox you'd be better off with the Note 8.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: "You don't want quantity – you want size"

      Phones exist only to grab a pic when you've not got anything better.

      Not quite: they're now so good that most people don't need another camera. Or, as one famous photographer once said: the best camera is the one you have with you.

    3. frank 3

      Re: "You don't want quantity – you want size"

      That 400D will be outperformed by a modern smartphone, cos its sensor is quite ancient tech now. I noticed a big jump when I went from a 450D to a 700D. But its also a different thing. DSLR's capture what's there, smartphones do a mass of processing behind the scenes to create a particular aesthetic and compensate for the user's lack of skill. I have to process my DSLR images in lightroom to get the image feel that I want. And that's what gives you the flexibility to create your own style away from that idealised iPhone aesthetic.

      But sensor-wise, sorry fella, that 400D is past it nowadays :(

  4. six_tymes

    I do need a new phone, mine is 7+ years old, and I would like to have a great camera. When will the market have Samsung phones with this GN2 ? next year?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Probably next year and possibly then only in the premium segment. But all modern phones already have great cameras in them. Performance in low light is the only area where they might disappoint, though, here too, things have been improving with each generation. Do some research and go with one of the phones with multiple lenses and you should be happy.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder why this great tech doesn't trickle down to real cameras?

    There are great shots taken with phones nowadays. Fantastic shots.

    It's truly amazing what a tiny sensor size and a rubbish lens (with no cover when it's in your pocket) can do, when combined with a beefy CPU and good software.

    So why doesn't this tech ever get transplanted into real cameras? The results would, I imagine, be astounding.

    A large sensor (more than 1 inch, often much more), real glass. About the same pixel count.

    Add the CPU and software smarts of a phone, and I'll buy one of those.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I wonder why this great tech doesn't trickle down to real cameras?

      It does trickle down to real cameras, except nowadays they are for professionals only (read "expensive"), because nobody else buys a real camera any more: Everybody (except a handful of perfectionists) is perfectly happy with his phone camera. Do you really need more to take a snapshot of your dinner, or a selfie with your BFF?

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: I wonder why this great tech doesn't trickle down to real cameras?

      >So why doesn't this tech ever get transplanted into real cameras?

      It does, it's called Photoshop/Gimp

      The phone does a lot of processing for you because people want to click and have instagram ready shots - even if they look like every other instagram shot.

      "Real" cameras assume you want the flexibility to capture the best raw data you can and then fix it later for your requirements.

      Most interchangeable lens cameras already do non-artistic corrections - for things like lens distortion

    3. Androgynous Cow Herd

      Re: I wonder why this great tech doesn't trickle down to real cameras?

      Take a look at the Phase One camera platform...and bring your checkbook.

      6 x 4.5cm sensor

      6 micron pixel size

      150 Megapixel resolution

      The latest generation sensor backs are so beefy they run the Capture One software on the camera itself to speed processing to the tethered computer.

      They also cost more than a Toyota Camry, and cannot make phone calls.

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